The new Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Merrily We Roll Along held its red carpet celebration October 8 ahead of the show's official October 10 opening. Playbill was there to meet the cast, including stars Daniel Radcliffe, Jonathan Groff, and Lindsay Mendez, and have a little fun with the company and celebrity guests on the red carpet.
Performances began September 19 at the Hudson Theatre, and the limited engagement has already been extended through March 24, 2024. Maria Friedman directs the production, a transfer of the hit Off-Broadway run at New York Theatre Workshop featuring the same lead cast.
"It feels like a real gift to be bringing Merrily back to Broadway after 42 years, to be bringing it back in this moment, post-pandemic, where everything feels a little sweeter in the air," says Groff. "I cried so hard when we left the New York Theatre Workshop because I love doing Off-Broadway. I love the intimacy of it. And I was really feeling like, 'Oh God, it's never going to be the same.' Then we came into the Hudson Theatre. And I had the revelation that this show was written to be on Broadway. You hear the overture with a full band. And it's like, 'Oh, wow, this is what this show was crafted for.'"
Though not an initial success in its 1981 Broadway premiere, Merrily has gone on to become a fan-favorite Sondheim musical in the last four decades. And the cast of the present Broadway revival have a few ideas why.
"The songs are incredible. This is a ridiculous score, like every single one. There are no skips," says Radcliffe plainly.
Adapted from the George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart play of the same name, Merrily We Roll Along features a book by Furth and a score by Sondheim. It centers on a group of three friends navigating the entertainment industry over three decades, but it tells their story in reverse chronological order from the embittered breakup of their friendship and artistic partnerships back to their college graduation night as idealistic youth. Radcliffe plays Charley Kringas, a lyricist and playwright; Groff plays Franklin Shepherd, a composer; and Mendez plays Mary Flynn, a writer and theatre critic.
For Reg Rogers, who plays Broadway producer Joe Josephson, this production was actually his first introduction to the sleeper musical. But he agrees with Radcliffe. "When I first started doing it, it was the first time I'd ever done it. It's the first time I'd ever heard it. And it knocked me out. I mean, it's so moving to me," he says. "The music is a knockout."
But it's the story, too. And the heart of it. "I think the themes of the show are so universal. It's about the passage of time, which is something that, unfortunately, every single one of us has to deal with," says Radcliffe. "And there's something really beautiful about that, and about the way it deals with friendship."
Mendez's Mary is planted right in the middle of the lead trio, friend to both Charley and Franklin, and there to witness their partnership breaking. "It's the story of friendship and of loss and choices," says Mendez about what makes the show so resonant. "I think literally anyone who comes can place themselves within these characters and within these situations. It's just so bittersweet and wonderful and gets everyone to go deep about their own lives."
Similarly, Katie Rose Clarke, Franklin's wife Beth in the show, finds the show's endurance sits in the story. "The story is so human, and everybody leaves feeling uplifted and positive and hopeful, even though it's essentially a tragedy," she says. "I mean, there's a lot of love lost in this story. But we end in such a place where people can really think about it and take stock."
That audience introspection is what Krystal Joy Brown, who plays Gussie, loves about theatre. "I want people to go and to have something actionable happen. I want people to have a spiritual experience in that theatre and come out and want to do something, like 'I want to call someone' or 'I want to connect with someone' or 'I want to make a different choice for a different outcome,'" she says. "That's an incredible thing to have in the theatre. And that's why it's so special."
Since the show really is about the friendship of Mary, Charley, and Franklin, we asked the red carpet guests who their two Sondheim "ride-or-dies" would be. Check out their answers in the video below.
The company of Merrily We Roll Along also includes Sherz Aletaha, Leana Rae Concepcion, Morgan Kirner, Corey Mach, Talia Robinson, Amanda Rose, Jamila Sabares-Klemm, Brian Sears, Evan Alexander Smith, Christian Strange, Koray Tarhan, Vishal Vaidya, Natalie Wachen, and Jacob Keith Watson.